The N.W.S.L. has seen its share of turmoil — two of its founding teams no longer exist, and others have relocated — but it has reached a ninth season and some other real landmarks. The league is negotiating its first collective bargaining agreement with players, it has a national television agreement with CBS and it no longer receives much of its funding and administrative support from the United States Soccer Federation, the sport’s national governing body.
But, as has become evident this week, bullying and abusive behavior have been a part of the league from its earliest days. And, according to players, team executives and league officials have not done nearly enough to prevent it.
On Thursday, The Athletic reported accusations that Paul Riley, who coached the North Carolina Courage to league championships in 2018 and 2019, had coerced a player into having sex with him, forced two players to kiss and then sent them unsolicited sexual pictures, and yelled at and belittled players.
The Athletic also reported that Riley lost his head coaching job with the Portland Thorns in 2015 partly because of violations of team policy, but the league allowed another team to hire Riley soon after, and the violations were never publicly revealed.
On Tuesday, the league announced that Washington Spirit Coach Richie Burke — who, according to a Washington Post report in August, would “unleash a torrent of threats, criticism and personal insults” on players — had been fired, and was no longer allowed to work in the N.W.S.L.
In late August, Christy Holly, the head coach of Racing Louisville, was fired for cause, according to the league, and a local television station reported that players had complained about a “toxic environment.” Farid Benstiti, the head coach of the O.L. Reign in the Seattle area, resigned in July, and the team’s chief executive acknowledged on Friday that he had asked Benstiti to step down after a player told the executive about inappropriate comments from the coach.
Those departures, all in the past three months, involved 40 percent of the league’s head coaches. When the season began, men occupied eight of the 10 head coaching positions.